Chornobyl aid

1990 saw the Ukrainian American community mobilize in an unprecedented effort to help the victims of the 1986 Chornobyl nuclear power plant catastrophe. Professionals, homemakers, senior citizens and children alike utilized previously untapped resources in order to collect vitamins and medicines, medical and technical equipment, foodstuffs, clothing and toys, to organize public information campaigns and to help provide for diagnosis and treatment of children suffering from Chornobyl-related illnesses. 1990 also saw large U.S. corporations such as Ethicon, Heinz, Hoffman-La Roche, Johnson & Johnson, Pfizer, and Squibb donate desperately needed items at the request of numerous Ukrainian American individuals.

Three shipments of collected goods totaling 287 tons were flown to Ukraine under the auspices of the New Jersey-based Children of Chornobyl Relief Fund and the government of the Ukrainian SSR. The first shipment of 93 tons departed from Kennedy International Airport abroad the Ukrainian-built Antonov-124 cargo plane "Ruslan" on February 10. The Ruslan was provided by the government of the Ukrainian SSR. Its contents, valued at $4 million, included: medical equipment (including two ultrasound units and urological equipment), vitamins and medicines, disposable syringes, clothing and foodstuffs organized by CCRF and the Canadian Friends of Rukh; soap collected by the Ukrainian Human Rights Committee of Philadelphia, and toys and letters collected by the "Toys for Children of Chornobyl" campaign, a child-to-child program initiated by Ridna Shkola in Washington.

Dr. Zenon Matkiwsky, one of several individuals who accompanied the shipment, returned to the United States with two companions: 37-year-old Vasyl Kavasiuk, a composer and orchestra conductor, and his 6-month-old daughter, Maria. Mr. Kavasiuk had been forced to work on the Chornobyl clean-up crew for 91 days. Both father and daughter suffer from Chornobyl-related illnesses and were treated at, respectively, Union Hospital in Union, N.J., and Beth Israel Hospital in Newark.

The Ruslan made its second voyage to Kiev from JFK on May 18 with 134 tons of goods. Organized by CCRF, the shipment contained approximately $7 million worth of donated supplies: vitamins, disposable syringes, medical supplies (including $45,000 worth of supplies for the urological unit of Lviv hospital), baby food and paint.

The second shipment drew large support from the non-Ukrainian sector, notably from Americares, a charitable organization based in Connecticut, the Catholic Medical Mission Board of New York City, the Brother's Brother Foundation of Pittsburgh and the Crystal Cathedral Ministries.

A third shipment of medical and other relief supplies bound for Ukraine departed Oklahoma City's Will Rogers World Airport on June 19 aboard the world's largest cargo plane, the Ukrainian-built Antonov-225 "Mria." Although the course of the Mria was rerouted through Moscow with a smaller shipment than originally planned (60 tons) and no CCRF representatives on board, $3.9 million worth of medicines, bandages, tetanus vaccines, vitamins, baby food, flour and two printing presses organized by the CCRF, including 15 tons donated by Feed the Children Inc., did arrive in Kiev five days later. The two presses were destined for Naukova Knyha publishers in Kiev and for the printing of medical texts and records for area hospitals in Lviv.

In the spring, several public information campaigns concerning the Chornobyl catastrophe were organized in the United States and Australia. Washington area Ukrainian Americans organized a Chornobyl booth on the Mall in Washington for Earth Day 1990. Earth Day events, held April 20-22, included an environmental consciousness-raising rally of an estimated 350,000 persons. The Chornobyl Committee of Washington organized and presented a three-day exhibit on the Chornobyl catastrophe and distributed informational flyers, books, posters and historical materials on Chornobyl and Ukraine, as well as circulated various petitions addressed to the International Atomic Energy Agency.

The United States and Australia commemorated the fourth anniversary of Chornobyl with molebens and rallies. In the U.S., various Ukrainian American communities gathered in commemoration, while in Melbourne, Australia, representatives of Ukrainian, Byelorussian, Lithuanian and Estonian communities as well as Australian senators gathered in ceremony at Treasury Gardens.

The summer months saw Belgium, Czecho-Slovakia, Cuba, France, Germany, Israel, Poland, and the United States host children victims of Chornobyl for recreation and medical treatment. In April, 143 Ukrainian children suffering from Chornobyl-related leukemia and thyroid disorders traveled to Havana, Cuba, for medical treatment at the invitation of Fidel Castro, first secretary of the Communist Party of Cuba, who greeted the children at the airport and announced that Cuba was ready to take another 10,000 children suffering from Chornobyl-related illnesses from Ukraine, Byelorussia and Russia. In July, the Ukrainian Medical Charitable Service arranged for 20 Ukrainian children to travel to Munich, West Germany, for rest and medical treatment. Over 200 children from various villages in the Polissia region traveled to Czecho-Slovakia at the invitation of the Czech and Slovak governments and public organizations of both republics for two months of health-improving recreation and medical treatment. In August, Ukrainian communities in Poland invited 150 children from Poltava, Kiev, Zhytomyr and Kharkiv to take part in a recreational exchange program in Bialy Bor, Poland.

In August, seven Ukrainian children from the oblasts of Kiev, Cherkasy and Chernihiv were invited to actor Paul Newman's Hole in the Wall Camp, a recreational medical facility designed in a Wild West motif for children suffering from terminal cancer and blood-related diseases. Their 10-day reprieve at the charitable non-profit organization was initiated by the CCRF and Sen. Christopher Dodd (D-Conn.).

Earlier in the year, 51 children and three firefighters from Ukraine traveled to Israel for medical treatment at the invitation of Moshe Fishbein, a Ukrainian-language poet of Jewish descent who emigrated from the USSR in 1979.

High-ranking officials within the Ukrainian government have also spoken out in an unprecedented manner regarding Chornobyl. In May, the Soviet Union, the Byelorussian SSR, and the Ukrainian SSR turned to the Economic and Social Council of the United Nations (ECOSOC) to cooperate and expand the joint national and international efforts being made concerning Chornobyl. According to Gennadiy Udovenko, ambassador of the Permanent Mission of the Ukrainian SSR to the United Nations, who had addressed the United Nations on numerous occasions in 1990 regarding the continuing problems of Chornobyl, "This is the first time the Soviet Union, Ukraine and Byelorussia in so many years of existence are applying for international assistance."

On July 13, ECOSOC adopted a resolution urgently appealing to the international community for cooperation and assistance in mitigating the consequences of the accident at Chornobyl.

And on September 30, during the World Summit for Children, Vitaliy Masol, then chairman of the Council of Ministers of the Ukrainian SSR stated that, "Chornobyl affected everyone, but youngsters were those who suffered the most."

Copyright © The Ukrainian Weekly, December 30, 1990, No. 52, Vol. LVIII

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